In the world of education, there are teachers, and then there are educators who transcend the traditional boundaries of teaching, inspiring us with their unwavering commitment to their students’ success. One such remarkable educator is Chong Chew Luan Penny or Penny Chong, whose dedication to inclusive education has earned her the prestigious Princess Maha Chakri Award in 2023. Her journey is a testament to the power of education, compassion, and innovation

A Life Devoted to Education
Penny’s journey in education began with a Bachelor’s degree in Arts with Honors from the National University of Singapore, followed by a Postgraduate Diploma in Education (Secondary) from Nanyang Technological University. Her professional life took shape as an English and Humanities teacher at Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School in Singapore. What sets her apart is her dedication to visually impaired students – a journey that spans an awe-inspiring 15 years.
“Whenever I see my visually impaired students actually achieve what they want to do, that is something that I am very proud of.” Penny Chong reveals her inspiration. Her support has allowed visually impaired students to not only participate in mainstream education but excel in subjects they are passionate about.

Innovating for Inclusion:
The Princess Maha Chakri Award Foundation places strong emphasis on sustainable and innovative education practices, and Penny has truly embraced this philosophy. She spearheaded an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) initiative aimed at empowering visually impaired students. This initiative allowed them to access learning materials in digital formats and receive immediate feedback from their teachers. The result was increased independence in their learning journey. However, like any endeavor, this project had its challenges.

One major hurdle was converting graphical materials into accessible formats. Penny explains, “for a visually impaired person to actually access the material, usually it should be more text-based. So if there are graphics, some description should be provided for. This is a challenge that we do have because the screen reader is not able to describe the pictures.”
To overcome this challenge, Penny adopted innovative solutions, including manual description of images and basic OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology. Subject teachers played a vital role in providing accurate descriptions to ensure students had the right information.

A Bridge to Success:
“Inclusivity is a big word; there is a lot of road needed to be done,” Penny wisely observes. Her life’s work exemplifies her dedication to breaking down barriers and ensuring that every student, regardless of their abilities, has access to quality education and a chance to thrive. Penny views herself as a bridge, connecting students to academic success, character development and communication with both schools and parents.

Her passion for teaching and inclusive education was ignited by a teacher who went above and beyond to help her in her own education. Penny shares, “she really went all out to help me in the past. There was not much technology, so she did a lot of manual work.” It is this dedication that served as a powerful inspiration for Penny’s own journey in education.

Penny’s unique perspective as a visually impaired educator adds another layer of inspiration to her story. She believes that being visually impaired does not make her different. She is, in her own words, “very normal”. She simply does not have her sight. Her determination, resilience and unwavering commitment to her students demonstrates that abilities go far beyond physical limitations.

More about the Princess Maha Chakri Award
Penny Chong’s remarkable journey in education is not only a testament to her dedication but also a reflection of the enduring commitment of the Princess Maha Chakri Award Foundation. Established by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, the Foundation places a strong emphasis on recognizing and promoting sustainable and innovative education practices in the ASEAN region.

The Royal Thai Embassy in Singapore has played a pivotal role in fostering collaboration between inspiring educators and the Foundation. Hosting visits and meetings with exceptional teachers has become a tradition aimed at advancing education in the ASEAN Community and beyond. These encounters provide a platform for educators like Penny to share their experiences, insights, and innovative projects.

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